By Louie Broz
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Objective reporting is essential for journalists. It can be difficult to remain objective when covering polarizing political issues, but Zach Pluhacek says he has that figured out.
“You have to give everyone (a) fair shake,” the Lincoln Journal Star reporter said in an interview at his office. “Sometimes reporters try so hard to remain objective, we fail to argue and question the interviewee."
Asking probing questions can be tough, and interviewees might think a reporter is trying to argue. But Pluhacek has a different point of view.
“If you trust everyone, you’re doing your source a disservice,” he said. “If you don’t present your interviewees with a counter argument, they can’t counter for their side.”
State government reporters frequently run into controversial subjects, such as LGBTQ laws and medicinal marijuana legalization. This results in editors and reporters working together to make tough decisions. When making tough decisions, Pluhacek said reporters must make sure the topic is important, newsworthy and is worth it.
Pluhacek, 28, did not know he wanted to be a writer until he transferred to Omaha Central High, a school with a great journalism program. He was inspired by an article, written by an Omaha Central student, that gained national attention. So, Pluhacek decided to give it a shot.
From there, the Omaha native took his studies to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to pursue a career in journalism. His freshman year he landed an internship at the Lincoln Journal Star.
Midway through college, Pluhacek dropped out and focused his attention towards his work at the Journal Star. He started out covering cops, fires and whatever else was thrown his way. He's been at the Journal Star as a full-time reporter since 2010.
One of his favorite stories he covered during his earlier years made a huge impact. In August of 2011, the Jones family’s house was torched by a fire. The family of 12 lost everything. As a result of Pluhacek’s story, the citizens in Lincoln donated to give the Jones family a new house and new clothes.
Shortly after covering cops, Pluhacek became an online editor. Even though the Internet has changed the media landscape, he still believes the drive for accuracy has remained the same.
Now that he has been covering state government for two years, Pluhacek has a good grip on reporting through social media, he said.
“You’re trained in college to churn out updates,” he said. “Young journalists have to know when to and when not to use it.”
He said at times reporters post unneeded information or quotes during legislative debate. Pluhacek believes that reporters should not post all the time during debate and instead should focus on what readers need to know.
There is no such thing as a schedule when the Legislature is in session, he said. Daily schedules are not released until the night before, when debate is complete. The schedules are simply a rough draft of the day’s events. Some debates could be short, while other debates may last hours. A filibuster can rewrite the day’s schedule. When the Legislature is in session, Pluhacek works 10 to 12 hours a day.
“Much of it is reacting,” he said.
When the Legislature is out of session, news as a state government reporter slows. During this time, he stays curious. Pluhacek takes a unique approach to finding news during a slow period: coffee dates.
He will frequently meet with reliable sources. Building those relationships is what Pluhacek loves about his job. Plus, politics has an abundance of interesting individuals, each with his or her own opinion and personality.
Pluhacek said some of the more memorable stories he's written did not come from the Legislature.
In 2010, Pluhacek wrote about the stabbing of Nicholas Gomez. Gomez was stabbed by Daniel Jones, both inmates at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. After doing some background checking, Pluhacek found information that indicated that the crime was apparently motivated by retaliation. Gomez’s brother, Antonio Gomez, had testified against Jones in 2006, helping to put Jones behind bars.
Pluhacek is also proud of a story he wrote about a Syrian refugee family. The family feared deportation after their work visas expired.
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